The Heart Essence of Vast Space
Namthar Compiled by GAIL SHER based on the writings of DILGO KHYENSTE RINPOCHE
Namthar, the Tibetan word for “biography,” literally means “complete liberation.” The special function of a namthar is to encourage us spiritually by showing how ordinary practitioners, within the limitations of their beginning, were able to practice (deal with their particular situations) and attain liberation. Namthars may include dreams, visions and songs—traditionally used by advanced beings to communicate an experience or teaching of spiritual significance. Inspiring our own efforts to attain complete liberation, namthars can spark realization.
As with the painting of a thangka, originality (for the conveyer) is not the issue. The initial intent being to inspire and instruct, the intent of a rendition is to make the story today so alive that it soars into the reader’s soul, perhaps despite herself.
“You are the heir of my teachings, the Heart Essence of Vast Space. You may do with them whatever you wish.” Jigme Lingpa placed his hand on my head.
In my vision he had a book on his head, his hair was tied up and he wore a white robe and a red and white striped shawl.
“To maintain peace in Bhutan and to ensure the preservation of the Dharma, four large stupas should be built, each containing one hundred thousand miniature clay stupas,” he added.
This visualization occurred at the “Tiger’s Nest” Cave at Paro Taktsang where I offered one hundred thousand butter lamps and gave many teachings and empowerments.
“Are you pregnant?” asked Mipham Rinpoche. (My mother was pregnant with me, her fourth son.) “Yes I am.” (She wondered if it was a boy or a girl.)“It is a son, and the moment he is born, you must let me know.” He gave my mother a protection cord and some blessed pills of Manjushri to be fed me as I left her womb.
Thus the day of my birth, before I had any of my mother’s milk, a lama duly wrote on my tongue the seed-syllable Dhi, the quintessence of Manjushri’s mantra, using the powdered pills mixed with saffron water.
I had long black hair that covered my eyes.My father thought perhaps it should be cut, but Mipham Rinpoche tied it up like Manjushri’s, in five bundles.Then he named me Tashi Paljor. He wrote it down on a slip of paper that afterwards my mother kept in her prayer book.
Later he again blessed me by performing a Manjushri empowerment ceremony.“Throughout all your future lives, I will take care of you,” he said. That blessing, for me, was the single most important event in my life.
When I was a year old, Loter Wangpo, came to our house. He was the foremost Sakya disciple of Jamyang Khyentsé Wangpo, one of our family’s two principal lamas. “This is indeed a remarkable child,” he said, blessing me and chanting some invocations. Then he took me to his quarters and gave me a bead from the rosary of Jamyang Khyentsé. It hung around his neck in a small red brocade pouch.
“Please bring a long ceremonial scarf of white silk with auspicious wishes woven into it.” His attendant, being a bit niggardly, brought an ordinary silk one. Loter Wangpo angrily sent him back, whereupon the attendant returned with an old, stained scarf. Loter Wangpo, even more irritated, demanded a new, pure white one. “Oh no, that one is fine,” said my mother, trying to be modest. But Loter Wangpo said, “No, I must have an immaculate scarf. This boy is the emanation of my teacher, Jamyang Khyentsé Wangpo. For three days in a row I have had dreams and visions of Khyentsé Wangpo. When I saw the boy I had no doubt.”
“It is still a little too early to publicly recognize the child. It might provoke obstacles,” said Mipham Rinpoche when my father sought his advice. So for the time being my father did not offer me to Loter Wangpo nor was I sent to Dzongsar Monastery.
When I was two, Mipham Rinpche died and Shechen Gyalsap Rinpoche came to participate in the funeral ceremonies. During his stay he told my father that later I should be brought to him at Shechen Monastery as I would be of benefit to the Buddhist teachings and to all beings. “What are your indications?” inquired my father. (He had already allowed his first son to take vows and was loathe to allow another.) “Last night I dreamed that the image in our temple of Tseringma, the Protectress of Long Life, turned into the goddess herself. She told me to take care of this child who would certainly spread the Dharma.
After a pilgrimage to Lhasa, father and I returned to Kham and met the great teacher Adzom Drukpa. He had his long black silver-tipped hair tied up on his head with a scarf. “Are you the son who will hold the family estates?” he inquired, for I was wearing a layman’s robe and wound my hair in Dergé style. (He was wearing a white raw-silk shirt, red brocade collar and dazzling chain of onyx.) Then he laughed. “Yes, in a way you will hold the family estates. But there is a big obstacle. Shall I look for it?”
Father: Yes, please.
Adzom Drukpa: It would be better if you made him a monk.
Father: That will be very difficult.
Adzom Drukpa: Then I’ll dispel the obstacle. Measuring a symbolic arrow of longevity Adzom Drukpa recited a long life invocation and measured it again. It had shrunk by a finger-span.
“There,” said Adzom Drukpa. “That is the obstacle I told you about.”
My father did not seem impressed, so Adzom Drukpa, reciting the invocation three more times, pulled on the arrow, which now grew. “I’m not just an ordinary man,” he said “and I repeat that it would be better if you made him a monk.” My father still did not react. Every day for seven days Adzom Drukpa gave me a long-life blessing. “Now I have definitely dispelled the obstacle.” But we returned home with no further comment about my becoming a monk.
During summer, the busiest time of the year on our estate, we boiled huge quantities of soup in enormous cauldrons to feed our laborers. One day, playing with my brother, I fell in one of them, scalding the lower half of my body. I was bedridden for months, dangerously ill, despite the many long-life prayers that my family recited for me.
Father: “My son, what ceremonies do you think will help you get better?”
Me (seizing the opportunity to further my cause): It would help if I could wear monk’s robes.
Father gave his word and quickly had some made. (Spreading them over me I felt elated.) I also placed a bell and ritual hand drum on my pillow. The very next day I asked Lama Ösel to come and shave my head, which made me so happy, my health rapidly improved.
When I returned from studying with Khenpo Shenga, my elder brother, Shedrup, said (I was ten): “Study is all very well but theoretical knowledge on its own is not enough. You should seek out the teacher with the highest realization.” In his view this was Shechen Gyaltsap Rinpoche. My other brother, Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, had just finished a three-year retreat and also wanted to meet Gyaltsap Rinpoche. So the three of us, along with my father and ten others, set out for Shechen Monastery.
Gyaltsap Rinpoche’s attendant greeted us with scarves, one for me and one for Nyenpa Rinpoche. He conveyed Gyaltsap Rinpoche’s wish that Nyenpa Rinpoche and I wait to meet till an auspicious day. Shedrup, however, having been there before, could visit him whenever he wished. The two of us waited three full days before receiving word.
Gyaltsap Rinpoche was indisputably among the most learned and accomplished lamas of his time. Once he started a three-year retreat, but after only three months, he emerged saying that he had completed his intended program. The next morning his attendant noticed that a footprint had appeared in the stone threshold of his hermitage. His disciples removed and hid it during the Cultural Revolution.
The abbot was Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche who instructed 200 or so monks, gave empowerments and also traveled extensively. A third great lama, Shechen Kongtrul Rinpoche, resided on a flat promontory on the other side of the gushing stream, a delightful place of meadows (covered in summer with yellow flowers) and of thick fir forests with delicious mushrooms.
Shechen Kongrul was a great meditator and, like Shechen Gyaltsap, took no part in the monastery’s administration, which was looked after solely by Shechen Rabjam.
At the end of the three-month teaching, we performed two days of thanksgiving ceremonies. Then Gyaltsap Rinpoche enthroned me as the incarnation of Jamyang Khyentsé Wangpo’s mind. Khyentsé Wangpo had five incarnations, emanations of his body, speech, mind, qualities and activity. Khyentsé Chökyi Lodrö was the incarnation of his activity.
On the morning of the enthronement I climbed up the path to Gyaltsap Rinpoche’s hermitage where a large throne had been set up. Only a few people were present. The then very young Shechen Kongrul held incense. Gyaltsap Rinpoche performed the ceremony and gave me precious gifts. Then he presented me with a written document that said: “Today I take the son of the Dilgo family and recognize him as the re-embodiment of Jamyang Khyentsé Wangpo. I name him Gyurme Thekchog Tenpai Gyaltsen, Immutable Victory Banner of the Supreme Vehicle. I entrust him with the teachings of the great masters of the past. Now, if I die I have no regret.”
Over a period of about five years I stayed with Gyaltsap Rinpoche, living not in the monastery itself, but at the retreat center up the hill. Then I went home and stayed for a year in a cave.
Afterwards I went to Kyangma Ritro, where Khenpo Thubga, who had tutored me in my cave, lived. It was there, at the age of fifteen, that I learned in a letter from my father, that Gyaltsap Rinpoche had died. For a moment my mind went blank. Then, suddenly, the memory of my teacher arose so strongly that I was overwhelmed and wept. That day I felt as if my heart had been torn from my chest. I want back to Denkhok and started a period of retreat that lasted for thirteen years.
I practiced from before dawn until noon and from afternoon till late into the night. At midday I read, reciting the texts aloud to learn them by heart. I stayed in a cave at Cliff Hermitage for seven years, at White Grove for three years, and in other caves and huts for a few months at a time. I was surrounded by thick forests and snow mountains.
My cave had no door, and though small bears snuffled around its entrance, they were unable to climb the ladder leading inside. Foxes and all sorts of birds inhabited the woods. Two mice (I fed them barley flour) scrambled around my lap. A leopard caught the small dog I initially had with me.
My alarm clock was a cuckoo. Around three in the morning when it called, I got up and began a session of meditation. At five I made myself tea. Because in the evening I let the fire dwindle slowly, the next morning its embers were still hot enough to be easily stoked up. I could revive the fire and boil my tea without getting up—just by leaning forward.
Despite my large number of books, the cave was quite roomy—high enough to stand without hitting my head, but slightly damp. Like most caves, it was cool in summer and retained some warmth in winter. Thus I lived, without coming out of retreat. (I was sixteen when I started.) I sat all the time in a four-sided wooden box, occasionally stretching my legs.
My brother Shedrup, my retreat teacher, encouraged me to compose prayers, spiritual songs and poems, which he thought would give me practice in writing. I found it easy to write and by the end of that period I had completed about a thousand pages. But later, when we fled Tibet, it was all lost.
That cave had a very clear feeling about it and there were no distractions. I let my hair grow and it got very long.
When I practiced “inner warmth” I experienced a lot of heat, and day and night for years, in spite of the very cold climate, I wore only a white shawl and a robe of raw silk. (I sat on a bearskin.) Outside everything was frozen solid, but inside the cave was toasty.
Later I moved to White Grove. There I built a wooden hut with one small window. Wolves panted by. Sometimes they stopped to rub themselves against my cottage. There were also deer, blue sheep, and occasionally leopards.
The young yogi with an A on his forehead
From the virtuous family of the Sakar mansion,
To prolong his life should wed the maiden born in the Wood Tiger year.
I myself was not the slightest bit interested in a wife. Nor did I care whether I lived or died. I only got married because my teacher told me to.
“Rinpoche, you’re extremely ill and your face looks dark. The time has come for you to take a consort.”
“You are a tertön. To ensure that your activities for the Buddhadharma become vast, it is written that you marry Lhamo.” Khyentsé Chökyi Lodrö and many other lamas unanimously agreed.
Khandro Lhamo was a simple girl from an ordinary farm family. She lived with her mother who sent her to work in the fields. There the lamas found her and brought her to my retreat. At that time my hut was close to my brother Shedrup’s. A kitchen was further down the hill in a small, open cave.
My hut was extremely plain. (Its walls were plastered with mud.) I sat in a wooden box surrounded by my books which overflowed the room. There was no place for a shrine either, so I built one outside on a small veranda. When Lhamo came she planted flowers, which made it look nice.
Lhamo also fetched books for me from home, which was useful. At night when she went to relieve herself in the forest, she noticed a fire blazing under a big tree in front of my cabin. (Hers was nearby.) “There seem to be small fires everywhere, sometimes even inside your hermitage,” she mentioned, obviously nervous. “It is the protector Rahula,” I said. “Do not to go near them.”
One day one of the servants who went to the river to get milk, curd and butter from the herdsmen, found a footprint that I’d left in a rock. Later, another that I’d made while on retreat with Khyentsé Chökyi Lodrö came to light. Lhamo had patched the boots that I was wearing and the patch was quite visible in the clear footprint. She made so much of this I denied that it was mine to avoid the attention.
At night I never lay down. I slept sitting up in my wooden box. In the evening, after supper, I started my meditation session and did not speak until lunchtime the next day. Then my brother called Lhamo and the three of us ate together. But right away I began another session and did not see anyone till evening.
At White Grove I received the reading transmission for the Tripitaka, the 103 volumes of the Buddhist Canon. (Our first daughter, Chimé, had by this time been born.) There wasn’t room inside for the lama who read the texts, so a place was arranged for him outside among the flowerpots and he read through the window. My mother, Shedrup, and Lhamo also received the transmission, but since I was in retreat, no one else was admitted. I continued to uphold my regular meditation routine.
I was twenty-eight when I completed this retreat, after which I practiced with Dzongsar Khyentsé Chökyi Lodrö, who was, like me, an incarnation of the first Khyentsé. (I considered him my second main teacher.) Having received the six-month empowerments of the Collection of Revealed Treasures, I told him that I wished to spend the rest of my life in solitary meditation. But Khyentsé Chökyi Lodrö was adamant: “Your mind and mine are one” he said. “The time has come for you to teach and transmit to others the countless precious teachings you have received.” So from then on I worked tirelessly for the benefit of all beings.
“It is a very auspicious sign that you have come today,” Khyentsé Chöyi Lodrö said when I arrived. “Last night I dreamed of meeting the first Khyentsé, Jamyang Khyentsé Wangpo.” Though that year I only stayed two months, I returned every summer, traveling to Denkhok for the winter or visiting other places to receive teachings from different masters.
For me, my annual visit to Dzongsar was a great event to which I eagerly looked forward.
I lodged in Khyentsé Chokyö Lodrö’s quarters and we took our meals together. When people came to see him, I simply adjourned to a nearby room and practiced there till he was free. The monastery’s college students, accustomed to unrestricted access, groaned that now he had no time for them. But clearly . . . well, there were tears in his eyes when I left.
Khyentsé Chökyi Lodrö, also a finder of concealed treasures, once said: “Last night I had a dream. From clouds, in the shape of the eight auspicious symbols (covered with Buddhas and Bodhisattvas) fell an abundant rain of nectar, benefiting beings. It means your terma must be spread.” Then he asked me for the empowerments to some of them, which I humbly offered.
In one of my terma visions, the complete mandala of Amitayus appeared on a lake in Eastern Tibet. Following this, I wrote a whole volume of teachings and spiritual practices. This mode of transmission, sometimes called the “short” lineage, complements the “long” lineage wherein canonical scriptures are transmitted, master to disciple. In the end my spiritual treasures filled five tombs.
Then Khyentsé Chökyi Lodrö requested that I go to Amdo and teach the Treasury of Rediscoved Teachings. I planned to go to Rekong, near Lake Kokonor. One very cold day before my departure, some herdsmen invited me to their tent. They offered a large quantity of butter, dried meat, and sweet cheese. Though I warned my attendant to carefully watch the horses, when the time came to leave, he rushed in crying, “The horses have disappeared!” Fortunately, the herdsmen had many yaks and we reached Rekong after a month’s journey.
But when my Amdo hosts heard (from my monks) about the robbery, they were extremely upset. Known for their magic powers, they said they simply could not drop the matter. Two weeks after I started teaching, the robbers arrived. “Please take these animals back,” they begged.
“I no longer needed horses. You can keep them,” I said, but they refused to listen.
“After we stole them, everything went wrong. When we milked our cows, we got blood. One boy was attacked by vultures—something quite unheard of—and many in our clan fell ill.”
Finally, they just abandoned the beasts and left.
I stayed at Rekong for a year and gave teachings on the beautiful hilltop where Shabkar once lived. There was a tree with a large rock in front of it on which Shabkar sat to sing his songs. The local people offered this seat to me and when I improvised verses, rainbows appeared and snowflakes fell, softly, like flowers. “You must be a reincarnation of Shabkar!” everyone exuded.
My ritual master was named Achog. One night he ran away, leaving a piece of cloth as an offering and note saying he felt unable to serve me properly. (I frequently reprimanded him.) After walking for a month, he reached a nomad’s camp in Golok where a mother and daughter invited him to perform ceremonies in exchange for food and lodging. It was freezing cold and he had nowhere else to go, but by then he had fallen quite ill.
“A stranger, a tall lama on a big horse, is approaching!” the mother one morning called out to Achog. I dismounted and came in. “Achog, how are you?” Achog was so astounded that he started to cry. “There’s no reason to cry. I’ve simply come to get you.” My attendants told him that no one had told us where to find him, nor had we met anyone in that snow-covered land to give directions. While the old mother served us tea, milk and curd, everyone commented on my clairvoyance.
By the late 1950’s the Chinese takeover of Tibet was rapidly turning into a full-scale invasion. When officials came to Denkhok inquiring about me, Lhamo sent a message warning me not to come home. “Go straight to Lhasa!” she urged, and, narrowly escaping herself, met me there. Our family quickly followed.
For six months I sat before the beautiful Crowned Buddha making one hundred thousand offerings of the mandala of the universe. An epidemic was raging, so I performed ceremonies and prayed for the sick and dying. During the epidemic, my mother and elder brother, Shedrup, both gave up their bodies. We also heard that the Chinese had confiscated the entire Dilgo family estate in Kham.
One day Chinese officials visited Lhamo: Revered consort, what are you doing?
Lhamo: I’m just sitting here. (She offered them some fruit.)
Chinese: What are your daughters doing?
Lhamo: They are doing prostrations at Lhasa’s main temple.
Chinese: Do you miss your home? Are you and Rinpoche planning to go back?
Lhamo: Yes we do miss our home and want to return soon.
Chinese: Why did you leave Kham? Had Communism been established?
Lhamo: I’ve never heard the word “Communism.”
Chinese (seeing some red and white sweets laid out on the table): Communism is just like these sweets.
Lhamo: If it’s similar to these sweets, there’s a good chance I will find it to my liking. (Meanwhile, though she already knew they had seized our possessions, she pretended to know nothing as she was afraid of being arrested.)
They told her to prepare to travel back to Kham where she and I both would get Chinese ranks and a high salary.
Lhamo: Thank you very much. We will be ready to go!
Everyone from Kham was being gathered and taken back. Some were forced to leave their children behind. Some jumped into the water to escape or took their own lives, but most were tied up and put in trucks. Lhamo sped to Tsurphu, the seat of the Karmapa, where I was staying. And where our horses also grazed till the Chinese had stolen them. So Lhamo borrowed a horse, rode back to Lhasa and bought twelve more. She returned that night, arriving at dawn.
Our party of thirteen immediately departed. We trekked for about a month and a half, pitching tents in the bitter black cold. Yaks carried our luggage, though I myself walked.
When a few days from the Bhutanese border, Chinese troops began shooting, we abandoned everything and traveled only in the dark. We climbed a mountain pass, but were so exhausted we stopped. The air was freezing. We couldn’t make a fire, even to boil tea, as the Chinese would surely see the smoke.
Finally, at the Bhutanese border, supplies down to nothing, we were detained for twelve days while the soldiers awaited instructions. But when they allowed us to enter, they were very kind, offering everyone barley and rice. An old lady gave each of us soup. In the rainforests of Bhutan there were so many leeches, both humans and horses profusely bled.
When we reached a placed called Wangdi, someone heard on the radio that Khyentsé Chöyi Lodrö had died. Thus immediately upon reaching India, I left for Sikkim to perform the cremation ceremony.
One evening in Paro (I was by then well-known in Bhutan) I asked one of my monks to go to the capital Thimphu, two hours away, to take a small image of the protectress Ekajati to the young king with the message that he keep it on his body the next day. The next morning, as the king drove down toward the Indian border, his jeep, missing a turn on the mountain road, fell over a precipice, rebounded several times and crashed far below. Everyone was killed except the king, who was ejected from the car unharmed. Other similar events strongly confirmed the faith and confidence people felt in me.
Everywhere I went, long before dawn, devotees queued at my door waiting for me to complete my morning prayers. They offered rice flakes, roasted barley flour, cottage cheese and fresh butter in exchange for blessings of well-being. As we traveled, every ten miles or so, near a farm or small village, a group of people waited by the roadside with a big fire of moist juniper. On intricately carved tables were heaped delicacies and pots of hot tea. Sometimes I gave blessings from the car. Sometimes I’d get out and sit for a while offering a longevity blessing to those assembled.
At larger monasteries or villages, a long procession of local dignitaries led by monks playing music, raising banners (sometimes dancing) escorted me to my quarters. There, the mayor, chief justice and other notables, all in ceremonial dress, prostrated before me, offering tea and food. The next day, thousands of people gathered and I’d bless them as they filed past. Or, if there were too many, in an open field, from a litter, I’d scatter consecrated rice.
Eventually we’d reach our destination where typically I’d stay a month or more, giving teachings and performing ceremonies. As soon as these were completed, I’d move on. I traveled throughout the year, carrying dozens of books and ritual objects. I was accompanied by five or six monk-attendants and a following of tulkus and practitioners who received daily teachings from me wherever we went.
Three or four times a year I’d perform drupchen, which lasted for eight to fourteen continuous days and nights. In beautiful temples, surrounded by fields and forests, this ceremony was punctuated with sacred music, dance and symbolic offerings. The entire congregation gathered from seven in the morning till seven in the evening. Throughout the night, three groups took turns maintaining the flow of the ritual and mantra recitations.
First, before the altar where the mandala would be created, I consecrated the site by visualizing myself as the mandala’s central deity while reciting the ritual text. Sixteen offering goddesses, with golden crowns, bone ornaments, vajra and bell, slowly circled the mandala making mudras that symbolized the offering of flowers, incense, lamps, perfume. Thus began the drupchen. At the end, the sand mandala was dissolved. The sand was placed in an urn and carried in procession to be relinquished in a nearby river. As the procession returned to the monastery’s courtyard, the monks, in single file, formed a “circle of joy” (resembling the Chinese yin-yang symbol) before re-entering the temple for the concluding rite.
I also went to Paro Taktsang, the “Tiger’s Nest” in Bhutan, where Guru Rinpoche flew riding on a tigress. For two weeks I made offerings of one hundred thousand butter-lamps and gave multiple teachings and empowerments. I found its vertiginous cliffs, bold precipices of rocks, trees and old old temples utterly breathtaking! It was here that I had the vision of Jigme Lingpa passing on to me the Heart Essence of Vast Space.
Beside a plunging fall near the “Tiger’s Nest” entrance stood an old nun’s hermitage. It could only be accessed by a series of notched tree-trunks leaning precariously against the sheer rock face. It overlooked the magnificent forests of Paro Valley. Here thick winter snow was impenetrable, whereas on the mountain slopes, high winds kept the snow thinner.
When in 1961 the incarnation of Chökyi Lodrö was recognized and invited to Sikkim to be enthroned, I raced to the Indian border to welcome him. A thousand horsemen waited to escort me and infant Chökyi Lodrö to his former seat.
During the few hours’ drive back up to Gangtok, I held the boy in my lap and cried. Later I would prostrate myself whenever I met him after a long absence—even on a road in the dust.
One night, while on pilgrimage in Nepal, I dreamed I climbed a lofty mountain, at whose summit was a small temple. Seated inside were my own former teachers—the three main lamas of Shechen—Shechen Gyaltsap Rinpoche, Shechen Rabjam, and Shechen Kongtrul. I prostrated before them and, singing in a sorrowful verse, asked them how they had suffered in the hands of the Chinese.
With one voice they replied (also in verse): “For us birth and death are like dreams or illusions. The absolute state knows neither increase nor decline.” I expressed my wish to join them soon in the Buddhafields, since I saw little point in remaining in a world where the teachings were vanishing fast and most teachers were but spurious impostors. At this point, Shechen Kongtrul gazed at me with a piercing stare: “You must toil to benefit beings and perpetuate the teachings until your last breath,” he said. Then he added, “We, the three of us, merging into one, will come to you as a single incarnation, a helper to fulfill your aims.”
Soon afterward, in 1966, my elder daughter, Chimé Wangmo, gave birth to a son whom the sixteenth Karmapa recognized as the incarnation of Shechen Rabjam. Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche is not only my grandson but also my true spiritual heir.
He was brought up by me from the age of five and received every single teaching I gave for over twenty-five years.
In 1985, after thirty years in exile, I at last returned to Shechen. In the brilliant light of Eastern Tibet, at twelve thousand feet, three hundred horsemen greeted me. As their procession circumambulated my car, each rider, passing in front, lovingly removed his hat. Then they galloped off to the monastery to precede me at the more formal welcome.
Nomads lined the road. Wearing thick full-length sheepskins, they scented the air with branches of fir and juniper. As women tucked children in the rich folds of their coats, their matted braids drooped. From their belts hung flint lighters with tinder made from edelweiss petals.
Near the monastery’s ruins oboes, cymbals and the deep roar of trumpets echoed across the valley. Then a long heart-wrenching line of devotees filed past. Novice monks held flowers, crested hats atop their heads. For the two hours or so that it takes for consecrated substances to be distributed, two monks continuously played the gyaling.
Meanwhile old monks turned enormous prayer wheels. Visitors’ horses and yaks dotted the slopes with brown and black and white. That night I spent above the monastery in the ruins of my teacher, Shechen Gyaltsap’s, former hermitage. (Since I could no longer walk unaided, I had to be carried up.) Though the hut itself was gone, I camped on a platform under the stars.
Other monasteries invited me to visit and I went wherever I could. If there was no road, I was carried on a litter. For several days our party crossed fifteen-thousand-foot passes, traversed precipices and waded rivers. Everyone wanted the honor of carrying the lama, so with four new teams an hour, long distances were covered quickly.
Once or twice a year local people printed from wooden blocks, then consecrated and affixed to bamboo poles, a thick forest of prayer flags—replacing those on hilltops, in forest clearings, on tips of rocky outcrops and at river confluences near temples. They looked like groves of fabric trees, tall, slim and crowned with vajras. Or like an army of swords gathered in crusade, dwarfing the monks beside them. In our travels we passed many of these clumps.
Kihi hi Lha gyalo! – May the gods be victorious! each monk shouted at a summit. Approaching Gosé-La, I smiled viewing the sacred landscape of my youth. Its meadows of rolling pasturelands, once carpeted with flowers (first yellow buttercups then blue gentians, marjoram and white edelweiss) rang. Around a wall of stones, flat and carved with mantras—in Eastern Tibet there were several of the entire Buddhist Canon—a young monk—was he nine or ten?—circumambulated the rubble.
We zigzagged across the Brahmaputra, on our way to Samyé. (This, in a flat-bottomed ferry.) Sun spilled through the air, bouncing off the bordering rocks. Then a double rainbow appeared.
While in Central Tibet I petitioned the Chinese government to restore Samyé Monastery. Surprisingly, they agreed. Because the king of Bhutan made a large contribution, by 1990, Samyé’s main temple was rebuilt right up to its dazzling golden rooftops.
Then I went to Dharamsala to give important empowerments and transmissions to the Dalai Lama who had been requesting them for years.
Light poured through my window, as I, from my bed, pulled back the yellow curtains overlooking my monastery’s courtyard. For the annual sacred dance festival honoring Guru Rinpoche was miraculously taking place thanks to the dance masters from Tibet who had come to Nepal to teach the complex steps. Inside, twenty-one lamas in the “black hat” costume stood waiting to perform. The chant master, also from Tibet, accompanied the dance with domed rolmo cymbals.
Here my day began at 4:30. An attendant, who slept on a mat in my room, folded my bedding and brought hot water and consecrated pills. I unwrapped my prayer book, stuffed with personal treasures—paintings, photographs, dried flowers from pilgrimage places. Around 7:30 I had roasted barley flour and salted butter tea.
Until nine I practiced, reciting the mantras mentally. Then, breaking my morning silence, I moved to a larger room to receive the people who’d been gathering outside. Or if a major ceremony was being performed, I’d go to the main temple early. For the rest of the day I remained cross-legged on my throne. When others took their lunch, I’d quickly eat and use every spare minute to answer students’ questions. Sometimes for months on end I’d teach all day, after which a small group would gather in my room and we’d discuss specific points late into the night. I never turned down a request for explanation.
Altogether I performed a hundred ceremonies to consecrate the images and paintings that line the walls of the three main temples of the Shechen Monastery in Nepal. Such ceremonies involved calling the wisdom, compassion and power of the particular aspect of the Buddha depicted to dissolve inseparably into its material representation, just as a mind gives life to an inert body. Just as space, within which the whole universe appears, does not need to show itself in any way to whatever is taking place within it, so the buddhas in their enlightened nature do not need to manifest in any way. Yet, through the links created by the powerful aspirations they conceived just before achieving enlightenment and by beings’ prayers to them for their blessings, the buddhas spontaneously appear in various ways to help beings according to their needs.
As spring advanced, my health deteriorated. I lost weight and needed more rest. I spent most of my day in silent prayer seeing only the most important cases. Thus, instead of a fourth trip to Tibet’s Shechen Monastery, I chose to spend three and a half months in retreat opposite the “Tiger’s Nest” at Paro Taktsang in Bhutan.
Afterwards, though for a while I seemed better, signs of illness returned. For twelve days I was unable to eat or drink. On September 27, 1991, at nightfall, having asked my attendants to help me sit in an upright position, I fell into a peaceful sleep. In the early hours of the morning, breathing ceased and mind dissolved in the absolute expanse.
Among my many disciples were Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Sogyal Rinpoche and Pema Wangyal Rinpoche. Trulshik Rinpoche, born in 1924, was not simply a lineage holder. He was also the principal depositary of my mind treasures as specifically predicted in the texts. As the main bestower of Nyingma monastic vows, from his isolated perch near Mount Everest, he identified the young boy who was my incarnation.
Trulshik Rinpoche had dreams and visions showing clear indications. One, a four-line poem, revealed the year of his birth, the names of his parents, and the place where he could be found. But Trulshik Rinpoche kept these details secret until April 1995 when he sent a letter to Shechen Rabjam. Decoded, the poem stated that the father was Chöling Rinpoche Mingyur Dewai Dorje (the second son of Urgyen Rinpoche, tulku of Chokgyur Lingpa) and the mother Dechen Paldrön, daughter of the Terdhe family. Their son, born on Guru Padmasambhava’s birthday, the tenth day of the fifth month of the Bird Year (June 30, 1993) was, as the verse said, “unmistakably the incarnation of Paljor.” Later the Dalai Lama confirmed it.
On December 29, 1995, a simple and moving ceremony was held in the cavern of Maratika in Eastern Nepal, a place sacred to Guru Padmasambhava. Many had walked for days from Kathmandu or Bhutan in order to attend. Inside the cave, Trulshik Rinpoche, surrounded by other lamas, offered religious robes to my yangsi (“one who has come back into existence”) and gave him a name sent by the Dalai Lama: Urgyen Tendzin Jigme Lhundrup (Spontaneous and Fearless Holder of Padmasambhava’s Teachings). Butter-lamps on ledges and in its rocky crevices lighted the cavern located in a remote area of the hills, three days walk from the nearest road.
This namthar of the (mostly outer) events of Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche’s life is offered with the wish that it will arouse in the mindstream of whomsoever reads it, any or all of the three kinds of faith. For once faith has arisen, the energy of the person’s particular spiritual potential is awakened. Indeed, The Discourse on Planting the Seeds of Liberation states:
“Faith is the doorway that illuminates all the Buddhist teachings,”
“Ananda, apply yourself to faith. This is the request of the Tathagatha.”
The sole purpose of recounting the story of one who has freed himself from suffering and its causes, and is thus able to free another’s mindstream from bondage, is none other than to plant the positive seed of respect.
Bowing at the feet of my beloved Guru, compassionate Vajradhara, the actual embodiment of all buddhas, I pray that, in your magnanimous kindness, you will grant me the power to benefit others in a consummate way.